Sunday, December 28, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: THE BEST OF YEARS, THE WORST OF YEARS

It's time for my annual look back at some of the more egregious ethical lapses that have plagued the previous twelve months.

As always, I also offer positive alternatives to the questionable actions of many high-profile people in the news. I believe that as much can be learned from those people who do the right thing as from those who don't.

GETTING OBAMA OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT.

On January 20, Inauguration Day, a sea of people will descend on Washington to witness the swearing-in of a new president. Lodging will likely be scarce. Some residents are offering up their well-placed apartments for $1,000 a day. Hotels are charging a premium for any rooms not already booked.

None of that is unethical per se, but some people are going too far. Recently ads on Craigslist were offering to sell hotel reservations for a nonrefundable $300. This doesn't include the cost of the minimum four-night stay at the hotel, which will add more than $1,000 to the tab. Essentially, as The Washington Post points out, some guy wants you to pay him $300 to make a reservation for you!

Compare this to Earl Stafford, founder of a Virginia technology company, who paid $1 million to book hotel rooms to accommodate wounded soldiers, poor people and others who couldn't afford to participate in the inauguration otherwise. According to The New York Times, "He said he wanted to help people who have worked hard and done everything right but who find themselves without a job or home."

EVERYONE (OF YOU) WILL HAVE TO SACRIFICE.

Not a week had passed, after the federal government's $85 billion bailout of the insurance company AIG, before some of its executives were treated to a spa vacation, running up a tab totaling more than $440,000. This, after AIG's CEO had told Congress that the company was facing a "financial global tsunami."

Financial tsunamis can make seasoned executives lose their poise, but doling out expensive vacations while crying poverty in an effort to get ahold of government funds suggests that these ones also lost their senses.

The incongruity was lost on AIG's leaders, but it didn't escape some university presidents who were asking their institutions to tighten their belts. Among them were Mark Wrighton, president of Washington University in St. Louis, who announced that he would take a 5-percent cut in his base salary come Jan. 1, and another 5-percent cut on July 1.

It packs a bit more ethical oomph, if you're asking people to tighten their belts, when you're willing to tighten your own.

WHEN GOOD MEN SAY STUPID THINGS.

To start with some disclosure: The actor and comedian Denis Leary is a graduate of, and a generous alumnus of, Emerson College, where I teach. My wife is a therapist who works with autistic children.

Leary has taken some hits for his new book, in which he attributes the boom in autism cases to "inattentive mothers and competitive dads" who throw money away to have their children diagnosed "to explain away their deficiencies."

His quote was taken out of context, Leary insists. And, to be fair, there are indeed some parents who look for any reason to explain their children's behavior other than their own lack of parenting skills. Had he simply stopped there, he might have done some good by addressing parental responsibility.

If you read on, however, Leary reveals a virtually complete lack of understanding of the process of autism diagnosis. In other words, in context the quote puts Leary in an even worse light than it does when pulled out and left to stand on its own.

OK, everyone has a right to an opinion, however wrongheaded. In the opinion of many highly trained professionals, including the one at my breakfast table, Leary's take on the issue is absurd. But that isn't itself unethical.

It reaches that level, however, when he uses his celebrity status to air his views to a readership who, themselves knowing little about the subject, don't realize how uninformed he is and may even take seriously the facetious byline, "Dr. Denis Leary" -- his only doctorate, I believe, is an honorary one from Emerson. It's especially unethical if, as I suspect, he overstates his own opinion for the sake of a laugh.

Also guilty of substandard ethics: Leary's publisher, Viking. Leary is used to spouting off-the-cuff rants onstage, and may not know any other way to work. Viking doesn't have that excuse. It's the job of any reputable publisher to make sure that what it prints is fair, accurate and not likely to do harm to others.

Groups such as Parents of Autistic Children -- at www.poac.net -- whose purpose is to help families with an autistic child get services and learn to cope day-to-day, don't enjoy Leary's spotlight. Nonetheless, they and the many service providers who work with them have a far deeper understanding of this issue, and it's a pity that their insights won't receive the circulation that Leary's have.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: PARDON MY PARDON

Roughly 89 percent of the readers who responded to an unscientific poll on my column's blog thought that it was unethical for a president to pardon someone whose illegal actions may have involved him or his administration.

The most thoughtful response comes from Sean O'Leary, a reader in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"Pardons of all kinds can be just, compassionate and even necessary," he writes, "because they can take into account a wider range of factors than might be considered pertinent in a court of law. Just pardons increase accountability by making more known and taking more into consideration ... Granting a presidential pardon to a crony whose crimes are a matter of public record is less troubling than granting a pardon for the specific purpose of preventing the crimes underlying the pardon from being fully investigated and becoming a matter of public record ... Just pardons increase accountability. Unjust pardons reduce accountability."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

SOUND OFF: GET OUT OF MY FACEBOOK

The New York Times and other media have reported that people seeking to work in the White House for the Obama administration are being required to provide vetters with, among other things, links to any blog posts they've made, links to their Facebook pages and "all aliases or `handles' you have used to communicate on the Internet."

Granted, work in the White House is likely to involve more sensitive issues than you'll come across in most workplaces. But employers can use the way prospective employees project themselves on the Internet as a screen for employment decisions, even if these things are not part of the official application process.

Should employers use Facebook pages, Myspace pages or blog posts to determine whether an otherwise qualified candidate with a solid work history and strong recommendations gets a job?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

THE RIGHT THING: THE THINGS WE LEAVE BEHIND

When my friend Bruce went to clear out his mother's house after she died, he found labels attached to every physical thing in the house, from furniture to trinkets in old dresser drawers. His mother had lived alone for some time and, preparing for the day when she would no longer be around, had decided to make life a little easier on her only child. The labels bore instructions about where each of her belongings should go after her passing.

Bruce's story reminded me of a time I was visiting one of my college professors. As I was leaving her house, I admired a framed, antique print of the college campus that hung in her foyer. She lifted the print off the wall and showed me how it had been passed from one professor to another, each leaving instructions on the back of the print as to who should receive it upon his or her death. Hers was only the latest among many handwritten notes on the print.

I've long thought that the approach taken by Bruce's mother and by my college professor in directing how their possessions should be disposed of shows great thoughtfulness. Their wishes upon death were made clear, avoiding any number of subsequent conflicts.

Sadly, more often than not, such desires are not made clear.

Ten years ago, for example, the mother of four sisters died. The oldest of the sisters always had thought that, as the eldest, she would be the recipient of her mother's jewelry. Upon her mother's death, however, one of her younger sisters took possession of the jewelry.

"It's mostly costume jewelry," the oldest sister adds, "having more sentimental than monetary value."

Initially the sisters could not bring themselves to discuss sharing their mother's jewelry, because it brought up too many emotions. But now my reader and her younger sisters are finally meeting to try to distribute the jewelry.

"Should the jewelry traditionally go to the eldest when there are four sisters?" my reader asks.

In this case, obviously, it didn't -- so apparently that wasn't this family's tradition. But my reader's real question is whether it's the right thing for the eldest daughter in a family to get all the jewelry.

The short answer: No. Absent legal instructions, or a note attached to the jewelry, there is no ethical reason for any one child to be favored over the others.

By not leaving instructions prior to her death, my reader's mother essentially employed a strategy used by many parents in an effort to help their children learn to get along: If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the words, "Work it out among yourselves," wafting over the four women.

The right thing for them to do now is to gather so that each can express her desires. My reader can express her view that, as the oldest daughter, she is entitled to keep the whole lot. Because her mother never expressed that desire, however, she may have a hard time convincing her sisters. A better goal would be to achieve some agreement on how the jewelry can be shared to everyone's satisfaction.

Granted, 10 years is a long time to wait to decide the right thing to do. But we can't read the minds of those who have died. Some things simply take time to work out among ourselves.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

ECONOWHINER.COM ON ETHICS

"How has this economic downturn forced you to make ethical choices in your business or personal life? What do you see happening in the world around you?"

Those two questions are the tag on an interview with me posted this morning on the Econowhiner website, a website whose tagline is: "Surviving and Thriving in Tough Times."

The interview grew out of a question Econowhiner received from a reader about choosing not to layoff her employees and instead cutting her own paycheck to keep them on. I've written about the ethics of layoffs before in The Right Thing column, in "In Downsizing, Loyalty is a Two-Way Street." That was back in 2001, during an economic downturn that pales in comparison to what we're experiencing today.

What the Econowhiner interview gets at is whether very tough economic times force people to make ethical decisions differently. You might want to take a look at the interview by clicking here.

You can post comments here or on the Econowhiner website.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: A DEATH THREAT IN THE TRASH

"Here's an ethical question for you," the mother of a fourth grader writes. "If a student writes a note in anger, threatening to do something, but then throws the note away before giving it to anyone, should he still be punished?"

My reader's 9-year-old son was playing with a folded-up piece of paper that he had made into a football that he could flick around his school desktop with his fingers. Another student in the class kept grabbing the paper football from the 9-year-old. This upset him, but he continued to grab back his football until his classmate finally captured it and held it too firmly for the 9-year-old to retrieve.

The 9-year-old took out a piece of paper and scribbled a note to the football thief.

"Give me back my football," he wrote in pencil, "or I'll kill you."

He stared at the note for a moment, then thought better of delivering it. Instead he crumpled it up and threw it into a waste basket.

A third student saw the paper in the wastebasket and retrieved it. He uncrumpled it, read the scrawled message and was alarmed. So he gave the note to the recess monitor.

All of this took place late on a Monday afternoon, with no school that Tuesday. As the 9-year-old was getting ready to go home, the monitor approached him.

"You will have to meet with your teacher and me on Wednesday," the monitor said, "to discuss that note you wrote."

When the 9-year-old's mother, my reader, picked him up at school, he settled into the back seat. She asked how his day had been, and he burst out crying.

"I never want to go back to that school," he repeated over and over through his tears.

It's important to know that the 9-year-old never had been in trouble at school for any minor misbehavior, let alone anything violent. His grades are strong, and he has many friends. And it's even more important to remember that, while the language in the note was strong for an era of zero tolerance of any hint of violence in schools, he had crumpled it up and thrown it away.

After sweating it out for two days, my reader's son returned to school. During recess he was told to stay in and talk to his teacher and the recess monitor. His punishment: Writing a letter of apology to the student who had been spooked after retrieving the original note.

Calming the garbage picker seemed wise, so my reader's son wrote the apology without complaint.

From an ethical standpoint, however, the 9-year-old had nothing to apologize for. He did the right thing at the outset, when he used his judgment to discern that the note he had written in haste was wrong and again when he threw it away.

On the other hand, the teachers failed by not addressing the incident on the day that it happened, particularly since there was no school the next day. Making the 9-year-old agonize about what his punishment might be, imagining everything from no recess to expulsion, showed poor judgment at best. They weren't trying to teach him a lesson by making him wait, they simply failed to use common sense in resolving the issue.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: LOVE IN THE WORKPLACE

Is it a company's place to dictate who can and cannot fall in love in the workplace? According to 37 percent of the readers who responded to an informal poll on my column's blog, the answer is yes. The remaining 63 percent said no.

"Only bad things can happen during an office romance," one reader writes.

On the other hand, while Megan Chromik of Cambridge, Mass., thinks that a workplace relationship can make work difficult, she still doesn't believe that "a company should have the right to say who can and can't date and fall in love."

R.K., a reader in Florida, thinks the company should and does have that right.

"Aren't employers entitled to prohibit such employee relationships?" R.K. asks. "It's sad when trouble arises from the deceit that secretive office couples sometimes engage in."

"It crosses an ethical line for a boss to `strike up an affair' with someone at the office," writes Phil Clutts of Harrisburg, N.C. "But, if genuine romance evolves from working together, it's not the company's business if the relationship doesn't affect the company or either party's future in it in any way."

R. Brooks of Fullerton, Calif., takes a similar hands-off line.

"How else are hardworking people to meet other people?" Brooks observes. "The workplace is a prime place to meet people with similar interests."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

SOUND OFF: GAMBLING ON A RESUME

Recently J. Terrence Lanni resigned as the CEO of the MGM Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. He did so after The Wall Street Journal raised questions about whether he actually held an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California, as company publicity materials claimed he did. USC told the Journal that it had no record of his degree. Lanni said, however, that his resignation had nothing to do with the allegations.

More and more top executives are finding their academic credentials questioned. Do you think an executive should be asked to resign if it is discovered that he or she has listed false academic information on a resume?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

THE RIGHT THING: A CAN PLAN CRUSHED

Many neighbors seek out Dodie for advice. A regular reader of this column in southern California, she tries her best to help out when she can -- but sometimes she is simply flummoxed as to how to respond.

That was the case recently, when a friend came to her with a question about her trash company.

It seems that her friend regularly puts out her trash on the curb alongside her recycling bins for pickup. Recently, however, the garbage men not only picked up what had been left on her curb, but also walked into her yard and carried off the recycling that she had stored in bags leaning against her house.

The bags clearly had not been left for trash pickup, so the friend called the trash company to see if she could "get the situation fixed." The company explained that, unfortunately, the driver was new and didn't know better than to walk into her yard and take something that was on her private property.

This fell a little short of an apology, but my reader's friend was hoping for more than an apology. She is a single mother, raising a young teenager, and had counted on the money from recycling her own cans to help with her daughter's soccer costs. An apology would be welcome, but wouldn't address her basic problem.

Dodie wants to know the right thing for the trash company to do.

Every municipality has its own code regarding things such as trash pickup. Apparently there's nothing explicit in Dodie's town code that indicates that a law was broken, but it seems pretty clear that the trash collector overstepped his bounds here.

What's more, in its list of residential services, the disposal company specifically defines the type and size of trash containers and stipulates that all trash must be placed at curbside. Trash improperly packaged or not placed at curbside will not be picked up. Therefore the trash collector broke his own company's policy when he went into the friend's yard to pick up the garbage bags full of recycling.

Clearly there's no malice involved here. The trash collector was doubtless well-intentioned and thought that he was doing the resident a favor by hauling off garbage bags that he wasn't technically obliged to remove. Nonetheless, he had no right to go into the yard to do so. Grabbing every bag in sight is beyond his call of duty, and sooner or later was bound to result in him taking stuff that people had no intention of throwing away. I can recall some early moves to new apartments in which I carted all of my belongings in green garbage bags.

Placing aside the law -- since I am, after all, not a lawyer -- and focusing on the ethics of the situation -- since I am, after all, an ethics columnist -- an apology would be a good first step. If the trash company wants to do the right thing, however, having admitted that the bag of recyclables was taken mistakenly, it should consider reimbursing her for the cash value of the cans that she lost. Or it might consider crediting her trash-collection bill for that day's pickup.

Even when the economy is not forcing people to watch costs and be more meticulous about returning cans for deposit, the stuff we store on our lawns should be safe from over-vigilant garbage collectors. The company should do whatever it can to ensure that a young girl's soccer plans are not trashed.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Right Thing Stories

For the weekly newspaper ethics column I write for the New York Times Syndicate called "The Right Thing," I am always looking for stories of ethical challenges, dilemmas, and perplexing situations. If you have such a story or question based on an incident and would like it to be considered for the column, please email it to me at rightthing@nytimes.com. (Or you can post it here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below.

Please make sure to include enough details about the story, the issue that you're wrestling with, and your name and the city and state or province where you are located. Include a way for me to contact you.

If you know of others who might have interesting stories, please forward this email on to them.

If you're local paper doesn't carry The Right Thing column and you'd like it to, you can send an email to the editor of the paper suggesting they contact the New York Times Syndicate. Contact information is available at http://nytsyn.com/saleinfo.html. (Or contact Sales Manager Ana Muñoz at munoza@nytimes.com or 212.499.3333 and tell her the name of your local newspaper that you believe should be carrying the column.)

Thanks in advance for your stories.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: LIVING UP TO IT

Here's a tip to all service providers, from retail establishments and contractors to teachers and medical professionals: If you say that you're going to do something, do it.

Now, this isn't a call for these professionals to do any more than they're already doing, and it's not a swipe at the quality of care being offered. Instead it's a demand -- when it comes to doing something you commit to do -- to put up or shut up.

A reader from Columbus, Ohio, recently booked an examination with her physician. During the exam several tests were performed, and shortly after the appointment she called to ask for the results of these tests. She was told to call back a week later. When she called back, a nurse did tell her the results. My reader wanted to know if she would get a fuller report in writing, however, and the nurse told her that she would get it by mail, but that it would take some time.

Several weeks after the initial exam, no written test results having arrived, my reader called again. The nurse told her that something must have happened to the report in the mail, and said that she would send it again.

Once again, however, my reader never received the results.

She has gone online to find a "Patient Bill of Rights," which she plans to print out. Then she'll write a note demanding her test results and take both documents in person to the doctor's office to get a copy of her test results.

"What do you think of putting a patient off," my reader asks, "not giving the patient what is rightfully his or hers? This smacks of unethical treatment, especially when the matter could be serious/important to one's health."

If the doctor's office indeed was putting off my reader, or if it merely takes a long time to send off test results, that is certainly a nuisance for my reader to deal with, but I'm not convinced that it would rise to the level of unethical conduct. Everything that inconveniences us cannot be chalked up as unethical. Some things are simply a pain in the neck -- not my reader's medical issue, by the way.

Granted, our need to know about medical issues is far more urgent than our need to hear back from a contractor for whom we've been leaving messages. But not getting information or service as fast as we want it doesn't usually indicate a moral failing on the part of the provider.

Where my reader does have a legitimate ethical beef, however, is with the nurse who told her that she would send the material and then apparently didn't follow up by sending it. If she had no intention of sending the material, she should have told my reader so and also told her why. Or, if she didn't plan to send the results for several weeks, she should have told her that.

To promise to do something that you have no intention of doing is lying, nothing more or less. None of us should feel cozy about doing business with anyone who lies to us to get us off their backs. The right thing to do, for the nurse and for all service providers, is not to make promises they don't plan to keep.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: IS COMPUTER ART CHEATING?

An overwhelming number of readers -- 83 percent of those who responded to an unscientific poll on my column's blog -- see no harm in sculptors using computers to help them with the design of their art. It's not cheating, they feel.

"Oh, please," Shmuel Ross of Brooklyn writes. "Of course, it's legitimate."

"As long as the final product of this artist is his own work," another reader agrees, "it is `straining at a gnat' to worry more than one minute over the computer-assisted work."

"Artists need to plan their works somehow," Chase March of Hamilton, Ontario, writes. "In the end, art is art. We are left with the final piece, and a computer can't ever produce that."

Or, as Chris Rand of Boston puts it, "Da Vinci had notebooks."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

SOUND OFF: PARDON ME?

It is common practice for outgoing presidents of the United States to grant pardons as they are heading out the door. Among the recent notable pardons were those by President George H.W. Bush of Iran-Contra convicts to whom Bush may have had a connection, and by President Bill Clinton of indicted financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife had contributed to Clinton's campaign fund.

Such pardons are unquestionably legal, and indeed are a long tradition of the presidency, but are they ethical? In particular, is it ethical for a president to pardon someone whose illegal actions may have involved him or his administration?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

THE RIGHT THING: FRONT-ROW CHEATS?

As teenagers growing up in northern New Jersey, my friends and I would regularly hop the Lakeland Bus for the 45-minute ride into Manhattan. There we would catch the subway up to the Bronx and get off at Yankee Stadium.

We'd purchase the cheapest box seats we could get our hands on. Occasionally, however, by the time the fourth or fifth inning rolled around, we'd notice that some of the better, more expensive seats closer to the field were unoccupied. We'd make our way down the stadium steps and plunk ourselves into seats that were beyond our means but were more suited to our desired view.

Only once did an usher ask to see our tickets -- in that case, it turned out, the seats' rightful occupants had simply gone on a beer run and been upset to find their seats usurped. We didn't get kicked out of the park, though, simply sent back to our cheap seats.

Christie Coombs of Orange, Calif., can afford more expensive seats to sporting events than I could as a teenager, but she nonetheless found herself in a similar situation recently.

"I bought the most expensive daily seat for a day at a tennis tournament," she writes, "and the seat was so high that I almost needed binoculars."

The best seats in the front sections are often gobbled up by sponsors, she says, but nonetheless go empty. Toward the end of the day, Coombs and some friends moved down to sit in the most expensive seats.

"I felt guilty," she writes, "but they were great seats."

Coombs knows that it's wrong to sit in seats you didn't pay for, she says, but she thinks it would be nice if sponsors would release any seats they don't plan to use so that others can be allowed to move into them. At another tournament she attended, the public-address announcer told spectators that they were welcome to move down into the empty seats in front.

But when no such go-ahead is given, Coombs wants to know, "Is there any harm in moving into the empty seats?"

Ideally, organizers would make an announcement when it's OK to move forward, but it may be that they don't do so for fear of a stampede of fans.

Absent such an announcement, the ticket you buy entitles you to sit in the seat printed on the ticket. It is not a license to use that seat as a base from which to secure the best seat you can find. You have, therefore, no right to sit in a better seat, regardless of whether or not that seat is empty.

Rights and opportunities are two different things, of course. So long as you don't buy the cheaper seats solely with the intention of sneaking into the more expensive ones once you're inside, I say no harm, no foul in taking an opportunity to move into empty seats for a better view, if such an opportunity arises.

You might, of course, ask an usher if it's OK to move into the empty seats, or you might simply take your chances. Remember, though, that if told by the usher that moving is not permitted, or if ejected from seats you've moved into without tickets, you are not being treated unfairly. You don't have a right to those seats, and you aren't being deprived of what's rightfully yours.

The right thing is to go to the event with the intention of staying in the seats you've paid for. If you see empty seats further forward, however, it's not wrong to move.

Some venues may have a policy of evicting any fans who try to move to better seats. That's their privilege, of course, and, so long as the policy is clearly stated, you should comply with it. If caught in seats not your own, you should leave the stadium quietly.

At a time when revenues are paramount and those revenues are driven by fan satisfaction, however, that's a silly policy, if you ask me. As long as the fans are willing to move back to their seats when asked, why not let them enjoy the game?

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: WHERE I STAND

This column marks the 250th time "The Right Thing" has appeared as a weekly newspaper column. What began in September 1998 as a monthly business-ethics column evolved into a weekly general-ethics column in February 2004.

Throughout the life of the column, there have been serious ethics eruptions in the news. Sometimes these take the form of corporate CEOs engaging in behavior that is not in the interest of shareholders, employees or the public. Occasionally they involve politicians who stridently portray themselves as protectors of the public good while themselves engaging in lascivious, illegal or unethical behavior. And don't get me started on celebrities who cross ethical lines as often as they partake of the latest herbal wrap.

When such eruptions occur, readers or others invariably chime in with the observation that, in an era of abundant malfeasance, it must be good to be an ethics columnist. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with the plethora of ethically questionable targets that happens to be available to me. There is no joy in seeing others stray wildly from doing the right thing.

It's not, after all, these egregious ethical lapses that present us with our great daily challenges. We know outright wrong when we see it. What has been the challenge for many of my column's readers -- and for me -- is to choose the best answer when we are faced with multiple right choices. Whether you're wondering how fully to disclose your intentions to an employer, how careful to be about using someone else's copyrighted work, how to leave a relationship with your character intact or how to run for office without losing your soul, the challenge is how to think through the choices to come up with the best right answer.

Because people approach ethical choices from different perspectives, it's not surprising that different people choose different right answers. Someone guided by rules might likely arrive at a different conclusion than someone who is driven by the interest of the greater good for the most people, regardless of the rules. My job is to help sort out the questions you should ask in trying to decide the right course of action.

I bring up all of this because readers regularly ask me why I can't simply tell them what to do in a given situation. Short answer: Because that's not how ethical decision-making works. My job is to tell you, my readers, what I believe to be the right thing to do and why I feel that way, based on the information you provide me and the details I collect myself. To think through the situation and decide the best right choice to make is not my job, but yours.

What I hope is that, through seeing how other readers cope with ethical choices, every reader can come away wondering how he or she would react in the same situation, and perhaps begin to give more thought to the consequences of actions before engaging in them.

And, no, Dave in Massachusetts, I do not believe that advising your wife to hit her co-worker back, simply because the co-worker didn't receive a sufficient reprimand from the bosses, is the right thing to do.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: MINING THE DUMP

The majority of readers -- 64 percent -- who participated in an unscientific poll on my column's blog didn't see anything wrong with taking goods from public-dump swap shops, turning around and selling them on eBay or Craig's List.

Some questioned the practice: "I would think very poorly of an individual who deprived a would-be needy user of the free item by taking it to sell for his or her own personal gain," writes Phil Clutts of Harrisburg, N.C.

But William Jacobson of Cypress, Calif., sees nothing wrong with it.

"These swap shops are merely repositories for items that would otherwise be destroyed," Jacobson writes. "If the new owner can resell them for a profit, more power to him. Capitalism is founded upon the notion that one man's junk is another man's treasure."

Alan Sechrest of Mission Viejo, Calif., agrees.

"If the items are offered by the dump with no stated preconditions such as `only for personal use,' then the items may be sold with no ethical concerns," Sechrest says. "It's like a gift: Once received, the recipient is free to do with it whatever they please."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

SOUND OFF: CONSENTING ADULTS IN THE WORKPLACE

The head of the International Monetary Fund has been cleared of wrongdoing in having had an affair with one of his staffers. The fund's board decided that, because the relationship was consensual, no harm, no foul.

The news reminded me of the first "The Right Thing" column I wrote, a little more than 10 years ago, which was about relationships in the workplace and the havoc they can wreak. At that time some institutions were beginning to introduce "love contracts," in which both parties agree to indemnify the business should the relationship turn sour.

According to a more recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management and Careerjournal.com, as of 2006 48 percent of companies permitted but discouraged workplace romances, while 31 percent did not permit office romances.

Where such affairs can really run into trouble is when a boss has a relationship with someone further down the employee ranks. But is it a company's place to dictate who can and who cannot fall in love in the workplace? Does a boss cross an ethical line when he or she strikes up an affair with someone at the office?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.

You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

THE RIGHT THING: JUDGING A MEAL BY ITS BOX


"Election year or not," Dennis Akren writes, "this is what folks really want to know."

Is he talking about the economy? Health care? The wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan or on terror?

No. What has Akren flummoxed is shrimp scampi.

Akren, a teacher in Ladera Ranch, Calif., is none too happy about the shrimp scampi sold in the frozen-foods section of his supermarket.

Recently he purchased a 10-ounce, single-serving package of the dish, basing his decision on the mouthwatering photograph on the cover of the box -- a tantalizing color photo depicting 11 shrimp on a plate mixed with some pasta and diced tomatoes.

I've seen the photo. It is indeed tempting to any hungry shopper who hankers for a serving of shrimp sauteed with garlic and lemon butter.

When Akren cooked up his meal, however, only six shrimp graced his plate. Compared to the box illustration, he was five shrimp short.

Granted, many recipes for shrimp scampi call for 1.5 pounds of shrimp to serve four people. If we're talking large shrimp, that translates roughly to 33 shrimp, which is eight shrimp per helping. So six shrimp doesn't seem far off the mark for a reasonable single serving.

That's beside Akren's point, though. His issue is the packaging.

"Showing 11, yet giving only six, seems hardly fair or ethical," he writes.

Thinking his first experience might have been a fluke, he cooked up another batch two nights later. Still only six shrimp, from a box that still showed 11.

When he buys a six-piece Chicken McNuggets dish from McDonald's, Akren says, he expects to get six McNuggets, and does. But in that case the number is clearly specified on the menu.

"But what about when you can only go by the picture?," he asks. "Is it unethical for the company to clearly have less product in the actual meal than the picture may show? Shouldn't the company be called on it? They are essentially doubling their profit because they are only putting half of the featured food in the actual meal."

Government agencies in both the United States and Canada do have regulations forbidding deceptive advertising. Nothing on the packaging lists the number of shrimp in a given package, however, and the photo bears the caption "serving suggestion," so it's unlikely that regulatory agencies will take these companies to food court.

Still, however legal it may be, is it ethical for companies to pump up their plates to draw in consumers? Clearly, when it says "serving suggestion," the company isn't implying that the consumer should purchase another five shrimp to toss into the meal -- or is it?

There's nothing wrong with companies doing their best to make their food look as scrumptious as possible on the packaging, utilizing professional preparation, expert lighting and clever camera angles to show themselves at their best. In this case, however, Akren does have a legitimate gripe. It's wrong for companies to package their products in depictions that clearly misrepresent the contents.

Gifted food stylists can make a plate of six shrimp on pasta look as good as one with 11 shrimp. The right thing for this company to do is either to beef up the shrimp content to match the depiction on the box or to reshoot its packaging photography to more accurately reflect what's inside. Not to do so is misleading. Whether or not this is the issue that people really want to know about this election year depends, I suppose, on how hungry they are.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: IT TAKES A THIEF ... OR DOES IT?

A reader from London, Ontario, manages the lawn care for the condominium complex in which she lives. One of the lawn-care workers came to her residence after finding several identity cards while working in a garden in the complex.

My reader knew the owner of the cards, who was another resident of the condominium, so she took them and returned them to their owner. In doing so she learned that the resident's wallet had been stolen. The thief apparently had ditched the identity cards while going through the wallet, which remained unaccounted for, along with the rest of its contents.

Later that day the same worker came to my reader's door again. He hadn't found the stolen wallet, but he had come across drug paraphernalia in the same vicinity where he had found the identity cards. The paraphernalia was sitting on the rear-window ledge of a condo unit where a young man lives with his father.

"Maybe the two incidents are related," my reader writes, "maybe it was just a coincidence."

Motivated by concern and, she insists, "without making any judgments," she went to speak with the father of the young man. She let him know what had been found on the rear windowsill of his condo, and the father said that he would "handle it."

My reader has not told anyone else in the community about the incident, nor has she asked the father what action he took, if any.

"It seems, however, very likely that the son was the owner of the `stuff,"' she writes.

Her concerns were given a new immediacy, however, when a second neighbor told her how wonderful she thinks the son is, and mentioned that he helps her with all of her electronic questions in her condo.

"So he is in her house fairly often," my reader writes.

You know what's coming: My reader wonders whether or not she should tell the second neighbor what happened earlier.

She is, of course, wrestling with a common and often agonizing question. Does she owe it to the son not to sully his reputation, granted that she has no proof that the drug paraphernalia was his, let alone that he was involved in the theft of the wallet? Or does she owe it to her second neighbor to share her suspicions about the son, since if her suspicions are correct her neighbor's security is obviously at risk?

The right thing for my reader is not to say nothing. If something were to happen to the second neighbor, she would be rightfully upset at my reader for not alerting her to the situation.

That doesn't mean, however, that she should rush over to warn her friend that there's a thieving drug addict in her living room. As she points out, the two incidents may or may not have been connected, and for that matter she has no real proof that the drug paraphernalia belonged to the son -- it might have been the father's, for example. If she said as much to the second neighbor, she might be wrongfully accusing her teenage neighbor.

The right thing for my reader to do is to urge the second neighbor to exercise extreme caution about letting people into her apartment. It's entirely fair to mention that a neighbor had his wallet stolen and that drug paraphernalia has been found in the area -- these are facts, and she not only can but should share them with her neighbor.

Armed with the facts, but not with unproven speculation, the second neighbor can draw her own conclusions. It's quite possible that she'll decide to find someone else to help set the clock on her VCR. If she doesn't, however, my reader should back off. Having conveyed the facts of the situation, she's done all she can or ought to do.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: A TAXING SITUATION

The majority of readers who responded to an unscientific poll on my column's blog believe that Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.) should step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as a result of his failure to include in his tax return rental income from a vacation home he owns in a Dominican Republic resort.

Neal White of Atlanta shares the opinion of 66 percent of my readers who believe that Rep. Rangel should step down from his committee post.

"Absolutely, Congressman Charlie Rangel should resign his post as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," White writes.

Should his misstep also cost him his seat in the House? Yes, replied 19 percent of my respondents.

But 15 percent of those taking the poll said that Rangel should keep both his seat and his chairmanship.

"Tax laws are convoluted," writes William Jacobson of Cypress, Calif., "and any of us might be guilty of the same lapse under IRS review. Let him do what the rest of us do: Pay the lapse, pay a (probably very stiff) fine and move on."

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

SOUND OFF: IF IT'S COMPUTER-ASSISTED, IS IT ART?

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Ben Worthen asked if sculptor Brue Beasley was "cheating" by using computer-assisted design to assemble a sculpture "virtually" before he actually sets out to sculpt the piece. Beasley tells him that artists have always found ways to make themselves more efficient.

"I can deal with a greater degree of complexity than if I was doing it by hand," Beasley says.

Worthen doesn't answer his own question about whether Beasley's approach is "cheating," so I'm putting the question to my readers: Are sculptors who rely on technology to ease the burden of creating art cheating? Or is it a legitimate part of the artistic process to make use of all available technologies? Are there limits?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

THE RIGHT THING: IF THIS IS WRONG, I DON'T WANT TO BE RIGHT

Something curious is going on.

During recent weeks a number of readers responding to polls on my column's blog have told me that they think a given action is wrong -- but that they plan to keep on doing it anyway.

Granted, my polls are anything but scientific -- the sample is small and far from random, since it's the self-selected minority who have chosen to participate -- but still this is something new. I'm used to people defending their actions and arguing that, even if some people criticize them, there's nothing wrong with what they're doing. I haven't previously had many people simply state that they are consciously choosing to do something that they themselves consider to be wrong.

Often, the percentage of willful wrongdoers is small: 14 percent of readers say that they know it's wrong to keep an extra newspaper mistakenly taken from a vending box, but that they'll do it anyway. The same percentage say that it's wrong to lie to political pollsters, but nonetheless would do so. Similarly, 17 percent of my readers say that they know it's wrong to call in sick when not actually sick, but have done that very thing themselves.

The percentages are much higher in some instances. When asked whether it would be wrong to continue using cable-television service that they were erroneously not being charged for, 30 percent say that, though they know it would be wrong, they'd continue using it anyway. And back when Scrabulous was still available on Facebook -- before a suit from Hasbro, the makers of Scrabble, forced the creators to take it down -- a full 53 percent of readers said that it was not OK to play the game, given the alleged trademark violation, but added that they'd continue playing anyway.

These responses raise some intriguing questions.

Do these people really think that what they're doing is wrong? Perhaps not -- if they did, by definition, they'd be compelled to stop. It may be that they feel socially pressured to condemn their own actions, but that's a far cry from truly believing that they're doing something wrong.

To many people, it seems, an action that's wrong isn't meaningfully wrong if those harmed by it are not everyday people but rather "deep pockets" targets such as employers or large corporations -- a newspaper, say, or a cable-television company.

But that shouldn't make a difference: The wrongness of an action is inherent in the action itself, regardless of who may be harmed by it or how significant the harm might be to them. Shoplifting is equally wrong, for example, whether it's from a mom-and-pop candy shop or the biggest store of the mighty Wal-Mart chain. It's not from whom you steal that's wrong, it's that you steal.

And finally, ethically speaking, is it better or worse to acknowledge the wrongness of something that you intend to continue doing anyway?

Well, perhaps it's more honest to admit that you know your actions are wrong, but you score no ethical points by coming clean about engaging in what you know to be unethical conduct. It may even be worse -- someone who does something egregious but who honestly thinks it's right is, at least, ethically consistent. That's more than can be said of the "yes, but" crowd.

Obviously for some people there is a disconnect between what they say they believe to be right and the way they choose to act.

The right thing is for them to get clear on why they believe things to be wrong vs. right, regardless of how they think others will perceive them, and to act accordingly. If you truly believe something is wrong, you shouldn't do it. If some reason compels you to choose an action, some reason that seems more important than your reservations about its wrongness, then clearly you have decided that it is actually the right course of action.

If you continue to find yourself doing things even in the face of believing that they are wrong, your action apparently is out of sync with your values. If it is, then simply stop doing it. Moral compromise is no laughing matter, and it makes little difference whether it's done for a fortune in stolen gems or for an extra newspaper.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: IN THE CARDS

As the economy continues to founder, most people are struggling to find ways to cut their expenses. At the very least, they're being more careful than ever not to pay more for goods and services than they absolutely have to.

For example, customers who once might not have bothered to use food coupons or to register for grocery-store discount cards now are willing to consider any of these options.

Barbara Howard of San Clemente, Calif., realizes that supermarkets offer sizable discounts on some items if you use their store cards while shopping. While traveling recently, however, she found herself shopping at a market she previously had never used.

She figured that using a card would save her a few dollars, so she asked the man behind her in line if he'd mind sharing his card.

He did so willingly. When her order was run up, she paid in cash, returned his card, thanked him and left.

"But as I drove away," Howard writes, "I wondered if the right thing would have been to give him the money I saved."

Several years ago I responded to a reader who wondered if it was OK to lend her card to another shopper. I said that it was, but argued that, ideally, shoppers would sign up for their own cards or ask the checker to scan in a generic number rather than use someone else's card. The store keeps a tally of what each cardholder buys, in part to make special offers keyed to those purchases.

Still, even the stores are inconsistent in the way they handle this. My wife tells me that only last week a checker at our local supermarket asked her if she would mind letting the guy in front of her use her shopping card, since he had forgotten his own.

That isn't Howard's issue, however. She's wondering whether the lender of the card should have reaped the rewards his card garnered for Howard. She wants to know, in short, if she owes the stranger anything for his kindness.

She owes him nothing but gratitude. He loaned her the card, but it was the store that provided the discount, not him. His gesture may have been convenient, but it cost him nothing to make it -- so she wouldn't be repaying him, she'd be giving him a profit. If Howard were to pay him the difference, he'd be getting some of the store's money and she'd be paying the same amount she would have paid without the card. If that were the case, what would be the point of having borrowed his card in the first place?

The store gives the discount to encourage people to spend their money at that store. Howard was the one who spent the money, so Howard is the one who gets the discount.

That having been said, many of my readers believe -- and write to tell me so -- that grocery stores do the wrong thing for their customers by using discount cards at all. It disadvantages customers, they believe, by artificially inflating prices in a way that customers can avoid only by giving over their personal information to get a card and suffering the inconvenience of remembering the card every time they shop.

If grocery stores do boost their prices to facilitate a discount program, as some readers suggest, their customers might want to consider shopping elsewhere. But the stores have a right to set up their price structures as they see fit, and many other readers see nothing wrong in the no-cost discount cards, and appreciate the coupons and special discounts that come with them.

As for Howard's situation, her fellow shopper lent his card willingly and was in no way disadvantaged by doing so. He may even have been helped, if Howard's purchases give him extra points toward bonuses, as is the case with many store cards. She doesn't owe him any money.

The right thing for her to do is to return his card, thank him, gather her purchases and leave.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

SOUND OFF: PRESSING THE KIDS

My readers were divided on whether the media crosses a forbidden line when it reports on the children of political candidates. In an informal survey on my column's blog, 46 percent of those responding thought that such coverage was out of line under any circumstances, while 35 percent thought it was acceptable when older children were concerned. Only 19 percent thought that candidates' children are fair game for the media across the board.

"I agree that children are off limits in most things," one reader writes, "especially the dirty game of politics."

"When someone is basing a political campaign, in any part, on `family values,"' another writes, "their own family values become fair play."

Sheri Nelson of Mission Viejo, Calif., thinks that the campaign issues don't matter.

"Children shouldn't be hounded by the media at any time," Nelson writes. "Neither should adults, for that matter."

But Jon Akutagawa of Costa Mesa, Calif., observes that "a child is supposedly a reflection of our teachings, a product of our experience."

If candidates have issues with their offspring, he says, perhaps it's because they cannot handle their own families.

If so, Akutagawa wonders, "Can that person then be trusted to handle their responsibility?"

Check out other opinions here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Workplace Ethics on Fox 25

Below is a clip from this morning's "Fox 25 Morning News" with anchor Kim Carrigan. Viewers questions on workplace ethics are answered.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Post Your Workplace Ethics Questions to Fox 25

This Friday morning (October 17), I'm scheduled to appear on Fox 25's Morning News program to answer viewer questions about Workplace ethics. The segment should appear around 8:30 or 8:35 a.m on Fox 25 in Boston.

If you have questions, you can post them to Kim Carrigan's blog which you can find by clicking here. Post as many questions as you have to Carrigan's blog.

For those of you who missed the last ask the ethicist segment, you can view it by clicking on the video clip below.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

SOUND OFF: DUMP FINDS

In many communities that have a public dump at which residents leave their rubbish and recyclables, there is a swap shop. That's where residents leave useable stuff they no longer want -- books, games, china, glassware, inflatable devices, furniture and assorted curiosities. Residents can take anything they want from the swap shop and, aside from whatever fee there may be for using the dump, there is generally no charge for any of the stuff that's taken from the swap shop.

As long as you leave your share of goods to be swapped, is it OK to take goods from the swap shop to sell at a yard sale or on eBay? Or should you take only stuff that you plan to use personally?

Post your thoughts here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column. Or e-mail your comments to me at rightthing@nytimes.com.You can also respond to the poll about this question that will appear on the right-hand side of the blog until polling is closed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

Is employer responsible for expense if I might leave?

Every couple of years, Lil (not her real name, but let's call her "Lil") has to renew her professional license with her s...